A Suncoast music teacher explores creative ways to teach his special needs students

Mr. Shane Swezey

SARASOTA – An Oak Park teacher uses his class to teach special needs students more than just how to sing and dance. They’re learning academic and life skills.

“Best teacher on Earth,” Mr. Shane’s student, Caleb F. said.
He’s talking about Mr. Shane Swezey, an Oak Park School teacher who is the 2019 Sarasota County Teacher of the Year and a top-five finalist in the state.

“Mr. Shane is my favorite teacher of the year,” Caleb F. said.

His students call him Mr. Shane.
Mr. Shane says he wants to break down some of the barriers that exist for people with special needs.
“Disability is just a matter of perception,” Mr. Shane Swezey said.

He says he wants to give this often-overlooked population an opportunity to shine with the abilities they do have.   

“So many times they’re not successful in environments,” Mr. Shane said. “And I want to change that reality. I want to give them opportunities that they view themselves as successful.”
Mr. Shane says music his tool. He uses music therapy to teach his students to reach non-musical goals.

“We work on academic skills, we work on motor skills, we work on socials skills and behavioral skills,” Mr. Shane said. “And we just do it with a really motivating medium of music.”


Mr. Shane says music is one of the only mediums that the brain processes through both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously.

“So when we’re talking about strengthening the neural connections that students are trying to make, specifically students with special needs, music is one of the most powerful tools to get that,” Mr. Shane says.

With these tools, Mr. Shane hopes to build and boost their confidence.

Mr. Shane says the goal is to prepare these students for life outside of school.
“The reality is that these students at the age of 22, they don’t disappear, they’re going to be a part of our local community for years and years down the road,” Mr. Shane said.
The Van Wezel Foundation believes the performing arts is a powerful medium to help students grow and develop.  They offer workshops for teachers and parents to integrate the arts into their curriculum. 

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